Language watchdog goes interactive to teach French to the French

Appalled by anglicisms and slang, the <i>Acad&#233;mie Fran&#231;aise</i> has responded with an online task force

John Lichfield
Wednesday 12 October 2011 00:00
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The Académie Française operates on a different time scale from the one most of us use.

The organisation, set up in 1635 to regulate the French language, has been labouring on a new edition of its dictionary for 76 years. A startling event occurred yesterday in its gilded home beside the River Seine. The "immortals", as its 40 eminent members are known, went interactive.

A new section of the academy's website will provide lessons on how to speak correct French without slang or common mistakes or, worst of all, anglicisms.

The backroom staff, which helps to compile its never-finished dictionary, will also provide rapid responses to questions or suggestions sent in by email.

The aim is to rescue French from incorrect usage driven by ignorance, the encroachment of English and the reversing slang of multi-racial suburbs.

A young Frenchman might say: "C'était stressant, le weekend de shopping avec ma meuf, quoi." (My shopping weekend with my girlfriend was stressful, right). Almost every word would be failed by the academy's online language police.

In its first online lesson yesterday, it began with the basics. It was high time, the website said, for the French to rediscover the simple word "oui". It was now common to "give weight to an affirmation" by adverbs such as "absolument, effectivement, exactement, parfaitement", the website said. "It is enough to say 'yes'."

In a sub-section for neologisms or anglicisms, the academy took its red pencil to the common French phrase "best of".

As the site highlighted, this English import is too often misspelt "best off". For example, "un rocker Français" might "surfer online" to acquire "un download" of "le best-off Johnny Hallyday".

The phrase should be replaced, the academy insists, by the word "florilège" (anthology).

November will see the third volume of its dictionary, begun in 1935, finally made available to the public. It will go up to the letter "q" and the word "quotité".

That is not a word you will often hear in France. While the immortals have been cogitating, the English word "quota" has taken its place in the French language.

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